Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday I participated in a book study that examined various types of spiritual leaders.  That led me to thinking about the various types of “sponsors” in 12 step programs. Sponsorship (being a sponsor)  is a challenge to all of us in 12 step programs who are in recovery and trying empower those we sponsor to build a strong recovery. There are probably as many ways of sponsoring as there are sponsors.  Here are the major types I have encountered through the years:

  • The Authority (dictator)
    • This type of sponsor establishes rigid rules and expectations for the sponsee (person being sponsored)  to follow and will refuse to sponsor the person unless the sponsee follows their directions to the letter.
    • Some people need specific instructions and someone to tell them what to do. Some people need authority, discipline and structure to establish a firm recovery—-especially when they are first in recovery and overwhelmed by withdrawal and subsequent cognitive difficulties.
  • The “Whatever You Want”
    • This type of sponsor is the opposite of the dictator. These sponsors smile and reinforce whatever the newcomer/sponsee does. They are there to hold the hand of their sponsees when they relapse—-which happens often in a sponsorship within a vacuum without direction or structure.  The basic motivation for this type of sponsor seems to be people pleasing, and they want the approval of those they sponsor.
    • This type of sponsoring is not very helpful unless the sponsee is able to take initiative in planning and pursuing  their own recovery with little or no real help. Most people who seek a sponsor are so “worn down” by their disease process when they first enter recovery  that they lack the ability to have insight, to know what to do, and to take initiative to do it without more extensive help than that offered by this type of sponsor.
  • The “Savior”
    • This type of sponsor expects to “fix” the sponsees—-to save them from themselves. They tend to jump right in and do as much as they can for their sponsees. They do not set healthy boundaries; they often allow their sponsees to live  with them, give their sponsees rides, buy groceries for their sponsees, etc. Their motivation seems to be “my sponsees will  get well if I do everything  for them while they are going through this tough time.”
    • This type of sponsor is also a people pleaser, and although they want  what is best for their sponsees, they deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to be responsible for themselves.  This type of sponsor tends to “own” responsibility for sponsee relapses and to feel guilty and as if they themselves have failed when their sponsees relapse.
  • The ” Assertive Role Model”
    • This type of sponsor encourages recovery by working the 12 steps of recovery and showing their sponsees how to do so by example.  They will offer helpful suggestions and guidelines, but  do not tell their sponsees what to do unless asked. They  are motivated by the wish to help sponsees learn tools they can use to help themselves learn to follow a spiritual path of recovery with less and less need for direct sponsor intervention.
    • This type of sponsor is, in my opinion, the most effective type. With luck, it offers the best blend of teaching by example and offering  suggested guidelines for recovery. However, some people need more structure and direction when they are new in recovery. These people do not respond to this type of sponsor that well, and they would probably do better working with an authoritarian sponsor, at least at first.

I needed to write all this down this morning because one of my own sponsees has recently relapsed. My first  “knee jerk” response was to feel guilty because I had failed as a sponsor. I felt guilty  because I was not there to” prevent the relapse”.  Obviously, I need to work on not falling into the “savior” or “whatever you want” categories of sponsorship.  I am not responsible for another’s relapse. I am, however, responsible for trying to find a blend of sponsorship “tools” that will benefit individual  sponsees. My sponsorship style is  typically the “assertive role model” type—-but I obviously need to work more on emphasizing the assertive aspect with specific individuals who need more structure. I also need to escape from the trap of wanting my sponsee’s approval. I need  to help those I sponsor  explore what sponsorship style would be the best fit for them.

I apologize for today’s blog being  more focused on recovery  than spirituality;  but  then again, I think everything I said could also be applied to living a spiritual life and how to help others do so.

Please comment about today’s discussion. May God bless and keep you.